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The Sin of Omission

My 30th anthology came out a little over a month ago. It is a high profile book. I have enjoyed the PR immensely. But. A minority of the articles about the book mysteriously forget to mention my name even though it is on the cover, the title page, and the spine as specified by my contract.

For the first three or four, I ignored the omission and cheerfully retweeted mentions of the offending articles. I have been good humored. But The Chronicle of Higher Education should know better.

Continue reading "The Sin of Omission" »

Driving around Vermont, Thinking


photo by Tony Hisgett

Friday and Saturday, I spent a lot of time driving around Vermont. I also spent a lot of time thinking while driving. I was thinking about whether to expand on my most recent blog post and what it is safe to say. These were the most beautiful drives I have ever taken in Vermont.

The leaves were at peak and the air was still, so there were many reflections. (Unfortunatly, I didn't stop to take pictures.)

Continue reading "Driving around Vermont, Thinking" »

Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging

I have decided to come back to blogging. I am returning at a point of happiness and strength with a new book out which is successful in ways I had never imagined an anthology could be. I have been having an amazing time these past few weeks.

I find that I have made my decision to resume just at the moment when Kathy Sierra's blog post Why the Trolls Will Always Win, commemorating ten years of over-the-top harassment, is published in Wired

Continue reading "Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging" »

An unexpected day in Boston

The trip to California was exciting and its hard to know where to start. We launched Hieroglyph on September 10th in Silicon Valley to a very enthusiastic reception. We did authors@google at lunchtime and then had a sold out panel discussion at Kepler's in Menlo Park. Our event in LA was also sold out.

Here I am in the cab on the way to LAX early yesterday morning. (Though not early enough!)


I had an unexpected overnight in Boston because I missed my connecting flight. So I did the obvious thing: I went to bookstores.

At the Brookline Booksmith, not only did they have Hieroglyph on the regular shelves in the SF section, the also had a pile of them towards the front with some very interesting books.


Then we went to the Harvard Bookstore where they were displayed by the cash register. I signed a pile of them. I also stopped in at the Harvard Coop, where they had some.


(You can tell this was fun!) Special thanks to mystery writer Sarah Smith for putting me up last night, and to Mark Berstein, Eastgate Systems Chief Scientist, for driving me around to book stores and feeding me brunch, and then delivering me to the airport, and also to Ted Cornell for getting my kids off to school this morning and picking me up at the Plattsburgh Airport.

There are many more people I need to thank. That list will be long.

Why Hieroglyph Is a Verb

My Hieroglyph Tour Blog is at Goodreads

I have been blogging about my book tour, what I have been referring to as the Hieroglyph Roadshow, on my Goodreads Author page. One of the fun things about this tour so far is fan-created Hieroglyph things. This photo collage from our authors@Google event was created by D. Simerly. Image
And we've also now got a Hieroglyph cat meme, created by someone who went to the Kepler's event. Image

Please send me more!

HIEROGLYPH Tour Schedule

ImageThe Hieroglyph tour may be coming to your town. Here are the tour dates so far. Watch this space. I will post more dates.

  • September 10: Menlo Park, CA, Kepler's Books, 1010 El Camino Real, 7:30 PM. Order tickets online. Techno-optimism: Neal Stephenson and friends. Panelists include Neal Stephenson, Annalee Newitz, Rudy Rucker, Keith Hjelmstad, Charlie Jane Anders and editors Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer.
  • September 15: Los Angeles, Zocalo Public Square at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., 7:30 PM. Can Science Fiction Revolutionize Science? Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson and Arizona State University physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, both of whom contributed to the new anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, visit Zócalo to discuss whether science fiction can truly change contemporary science, and what the alternative futures we imagine mean for present-day innovation. Make a reservation.
  • September 30, New York City: Project Hieroglyph: Book Launch and Celebration sponsored by Tumblr and ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, featuring Madeline Ashby & Elizabeth Bear, Tuesday, September 30, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. The event is free, but preregistration on Eventbrite is required.
  • October 2, Washinton, DCCan We Imagine Our Way to a Better Future? It’s 2014 and we have no flying cars, no Mars colonies, no needleless injections, and yet plenty of smartphone dating apps. Is our science fiction to blame if we find today’s science and technology less than dazzling? Inspired by Neal Stephenson’s 2011 article, “Innovation Starvation,” in which he argues that science fiction is failing to supply our scientists and engineers with inspiration, and the new anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, this event will explore a more ambitious narrative about what’s coming. From the tales we tell about robots and drones, to the narratives on the cutting edge of neuroscience, to society’s view of its most intractable problems, we need to begin telling a new set of stories about ourselves and the future. URL TBA.
  • October 3-5, Ottawa: Can-Con - Kathryn Cramer & Madeline Ashby.
  • October 22, Phoenix, Arizona: Changing Hands Bookstore, 7PM at the Cresent Ballroom. Tickets, which require a book purchase, required for admission. Visit the Changing Hands website for more information and to purchase tickets. Project Hieroglyph science fiction authors, scientists, engineers, and other experts share their ambitious, optimistic visions of the near future. Presenters will include science fiction author and essayist Madeline Ashby (Machine Dynasty series), Aurora Award winner Karl Schroeder (Lockstep), Clarke Award finalist Kathleen Ann Goonan (Queen City Jazz), Zygote Games founder James L. Cambias (A Darkling Sea), acclaimed cosmologist and astrobiologist Paul Davies (The Eerie Silence), science fiction and fantasy anthologist Kathryn Cramer (Year’s Best SF), ASU Center for Science and the Imagination director Ed Finn, and legendary Locus, Nebula, and Hugo award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson (2312 and Red Mars). 
  • October 26, SeattleNeal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow: Reigniting Society’s Ambition with Science Fiction. Tickets available here.

More events TBA.

Reading the Hieroglyphs

From Jim Cambias:
The Hieroglyph anthology gets its official release September 9, and the publishers are leaking some teaser material. You can go here to read a preview of the e-book version on Scribd. Or you can download a PDF excerpt here, including the introduction by Lawrence Krauss and the essay "Innovation Starvation" by Neal Stephenson which inspired the whole thing.


HIEROGLYPH in Hardcover!

My first copy of my new book HIEROGLYPH came in the mail. The publication date is September 9th. Image
I co-edited the book with Ed Finn of Arizona State University's Center for Science & the Imagination. Project Hieroglyph was launched by Neal Stephenson. Contributors include: Charlie Jane Anders, Madeline Ashby, Elizabeth Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, James Cambias, Brenda Cooper, Cory Doctorow, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Lee Konstantinou, Lawrence M. Krauss, Geoffrey A. Landis, Annalee Newitz, Rudy Rucker, Karl Schroeder, Vandanah Singh, Neal Stephenson, and Bruce Sterling. You can pre-order your copy here! 😎

Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future

Hiero_HC_c28My new book, Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, is coming out in September. I co-edited the book with Ed Finn of Arizona State University's Center for Science & the Imagination. Project Hieroglyph was launched by Neal Stephenson.

Contributors include: Charlie Jane Anders, Madeline Ashby, Elizabeth Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, James Cambias, Brenda Cooper, Cory Doctorow, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Lee Konstantinou, Lawrence M. Krauss, Geoffrey A. Landis, Annalee Newitz, Rudy Rucker, Karl Schroeder, Vandanah Singh, Neal Stephenson, and Bruce Sterling.

Year's Best SF 17 (2012), ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer Table of Contents

Year's Best SF 17 cover

Here is the table of contents for our Year's Best SF 17, forthcoming from HarperCollins this summer:

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three • Ken MacLeod 

Dolly • Elizabeth Bear

Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer • Ken Liu

Tethered • Mercurio Rivera

Wahala • Nnedi Okorafor

Laika’s Ghost • Karl Schroeder

Ragnarok • Paul Park

Six Months, Three Days • Charlie Jane Anders

And Weep Like Alexander • Neil Gaiman

The Middle of Somewhere • Judith Moffett

Mercies • Gregory Benford

The Education of Junior Number 12 • Madeline Ashby

Our Candidate • Robert Reed

Thick Water • Karen Heuler

The War Artist • Tony Ballantyne

The Master of the Aviary • Bruce Sterling

Home Sweet Bi’Ome • Pat MacEwan

For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Lonliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again • Michael Swanwick

The Ki-anna • Gwyneth Jones

Eliot Wrote • Nancy Kress

The Nearest Thing • Genevieve Valentine

The Vector Alphabet of Intersellar Travel • Yoon Ha Lee

The Ice Owl • Carolyn Ives Gilman


Year's Best Fantasy 10 Table of Contents

I am pleased to announce the table of contents for Year's Best Fantasy 10 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, forthcoming from

Dragon’s Deep · Cecelia Holland

The Green Bird · Kage Baker

Dulce Domum · Ellen Kushner

The Parable of the Shower · Leah Bobet

The Dragaman’s Bride · Andy Duncan

Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela · Saladin Ahmed

Images of Anna · Nancy Kress

Icarus Saved from the Skies · Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown · Holly Black

The Score · Alaya Dawn Johnson

Sleight of Hand · Peter S. Beagle

Bigfoot and the Bodhisattva · James Morrow

A Delicate Architecture · Catherynne M. Valente

Swell · Elizabeth Bear

The Bones of Giants · Yoon Ha Lee

The Minuteman’s Witch · Charles Coleman Finlay

Conquistador del la Noche · Carrie Vaughn

Winterborn · Liz Williams

Three Twilight Tales · Jo Walton

Power and Magic · Marly Youmans

The Avenger of Love · Jack Skillingstead

The Persistence of Souls · Sarah Zettel

An Invocation of Incuriosity · Neil Gaiman

Three Friends · Claude Lalumière

Shadow of the Valley · Fred Chappel

Technicolor · John Langan

Economancer · Carolyn Ives Gilman

Year’s Best SF 16 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer: Table of contents

Year's Best SF 16 cover

Sleeping Dogs • Joe Haldeman

Castoff World • Kay Kenyon

Petopia  • Benjamin Crowell

Futures in the Memory Market  • Nina Kiriki Hoffman 

A Preliminary Assessment of the Drake Equation, Being an Excerpt From the Memoirs of Star Captain Y.-T. Lee • Vernor Vinge

About It • Terry Bisson

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra  • Vandana Singh 

Under the Moons of Venus  • Damien Broderick

All the Love in the World  • Cat Sparks

At Budokan • Alastair Reynolds

Graffiti in the Library of Babel  • David Langford 

Steadfast Castle • Michael Swanwick

How to Become a Mars Overlord  • Catherynne M. Valente

To Hie from Far Cilenia • Karl Schroeder

The Hebras And The Demons And The Damned  • Brenda Cooper 

Penumbra  • Gregory Benford

The Good Hand  • Robert Reed

The Cassandra Project  • Jack McDevitt 

Jackie’s Boy  • Stephen Popkes

Eight Miles • Sean McMullen

Ghosts Doing  the Orange Dance (The Parke Family Scrapbook Number IV) • Paul Park

We think the book will be out from HarperCollins in May. It is available for pre-order from Amazon.

Year's Best SF 15 table of contents

SN850389Year's Best SF 15, ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, is forthcoming from HarperCollins this summer and is available for pre-order from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Vandana Singh • Infinities

Robert Charles Wilson • This Peaceable Land; or the Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beacher Stowe

Yoon Ha Lee • The Unstrung Zither

Bruce Sterling • Black Swan

Nancy Kress • Exegesis

Ian Creasey • Erosion

Gwyneth Jones • Collision

Gene Wolfe • Donovan Sent Me

Marissa K. Lingen • The Calculus Plague

Peter Watts • The Island

Paul Cornell • One of Our Bastards Is Missing

Sarah L. Edwards • Lady of the White-Spired City

Brian Stableford • The Highway Code

Peter M. Ball • On the Destruction of Copenhagen by the War Machines of the Merfolk

Alastair Reynolds • The Fixation

Brenda Cooper • In Our Garden

Geoff Ryman • Blocked

Michael Cassut • The Last Apostle

Charles Oberndorf • Another Life

Mary Robinette Kowal • The Consciousness Problem

Stephen Baxter • Tempest 43

Genevieve Valentine • Bespoke

Eric James Stone • Attitude Adjustment

Chris Roberson • Edison's Frankenstein

Wall Street weighs in on Amazon, declares Borders the winner: AMZN off 5.21%; BPG up 10.47%

Apparently, Wall Street was not amused by Amazon's fight with Macmillan USA. A bunch of the financial articles attribute the Amazon fall to expectations that e-book prices would rise. But that strikes me as nonsense. If that's true, why the big rise in Borders? Perhaps because some think that Amazon is not the future of online retailing and are looking for alternatives?

From Google Finance:


AMZN, Inc. 118.87 -6.54 -5.21%    

BKS Barnes & Noble, Inc. 18.00 +0.52 2.97%

BGP Borders Group, Inc. 0.950 +0.090 10.47%

BAMM Books-A-Million, Inc. 6.51 +0.14 2.20%

AAPL Apple Inc. 194.43 +2.37 1.23%

Now that Amazon has conceded, can they please fix the damage?

I really don't like the 404-Document Not Found message where the Amazon page for the Kindle edition of our Year's Best Fantasy 9 is supposed to be

(Amazon's poorly worded concession in the Amazon-Macmillan dispute is here.)

As I said, I personally don't buy e-books. Nor do I own an e-book reader. But this particular book was intended to be published as a book where the e-book edition is primary.

John Sargent's address to authors about the Amazon situation

This ran as a paid advertisement in a special Saturday edition of Publishers Lunch:

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Continue reading "John Sargent's address to authors about the Amazon situation" »

Year's Best Fantasy 9, ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, part 6 on has put up the 6th installment of our Year's Best Fantasy 9:

Segment number six features the following stories:

“Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake” by Naomi Novik 
“If Angels Fight” by Richard Bowes 
“Queen of the Sunlit Shore” by Liz Williams 

Registered users, download it here

Year's Best Fantasy 9, parts 2 & 3, available for free download from

Part 2:

Year’s Best Fantasy 9, Part two


Earlier this year, debuted as an imprint independent from Tor Books by publishing Year’s Best Fantasy 9, David G. Hartwell’s and Kathryn Cramer’s definitive anthology of fantastical stories.

While YBF9 is still available as a print-on demand edition, and you can buy your very own print copy at our store, we’re posting segments of the anthology on, for your reading pleasure. Each of these segments feature three or four stories from the anthology, and are available to all registered users of It’s a great way to sample some of the content in the book before deciding to part with your hard-earned cash, or of simply getting a shorter dose of wonder and the fantastical.

Segment number two features the following stories:

“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear 
“From the Clay of His Heart” by John Brown
“The Olverung” by Stephen Woodworth 

Registered users, download it here

Part 3:

Segment number three features the following stories:

“The Rabbi’s Hobby” by Peter S. Beagle 
“26 Monkeys and the Abyss” by Kij Johnson 
“Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistrita” by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald 

Registered users, download it here posting free downloads of stories from our Year's Best Fantasy 9


Earlier this year, debuted as an imprint independent from Tor Books bypublishing Year’s Best Fantasy 9, David G. Hartwell’s and Kathryn Cramer’s definitive anthology of fantastical stories.

While YBF9 is still available as a print-on demand edition, and you can buy your very own print copy at the Print Book Store, starting today, and once a week for the following eight weeks, we’ll be posting segments of the anthology on as a PDF, for your reading pleasure.

Each of these segments will feature three or four stories from the anthology, and will be available to all registered users of It’s a great way to sample some of the content in the book before deciding to part with your hard-earned cash, or of simply getting a shorter dose of wonder and the fantastical.

Our first segment features the following stories:

“Dalthree” by Jeffrey Ford 
“The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D.” by Al Michaud
“Reader’s Guide” by Lisa Goldstein 

Also, something I should have mentioned a while back: Nigel Beale has posted the podcast of his interview with David Hartwell and me.

Year's Best SF 13 gets a second printing

YBSF 13 cover

I'm sifting through my mail pile in Pleasantville this morning, and I find a letter from Will Hinton at Harper Eos saying that Year's Best SF 13 has just gone into a second printing. It is really great to get a letter from one's publisher that ends "Congratulations on your continued success!", especially in the current publishing environment.

Yay book! Sell! Sell! Sell!

Hartwell & Cramer Year's Best Fantasy 9 is in print!

OurYear's Best Fantasy 9 is now in print from We are their first book in a bleeding edge  experiment to publish SF in new ways. (The primary edition of the book is intended to be the digital, however I think that edition has not yet emerged from Ingram's system.)


I was at the University Bookstore in Seattle yesterday. (In case you are wondering, Duane Wilkins and I are both standing up. He is that much taller than me. Photo by my brother John G. Cramer, III.)

David Hartwell interview for Clarion West at the University Bookstore

Eileen Gunn interviewed David Hartwell last night as part of the Clarion West reading series, held this year at the University Bookstore. 

John D. Berry took most of the photos of the actual event, since I was sitting up front with David and with Eilleen Gunn, the interviewer. The main photoset is HERE.

University Bookstore

Duane Wilkins introduces the event

singing teen angel

David Hartwell opens by singing the first verse of "Teen Angel."

Eileen Gunn

Eileen Gunn

David Hartwell & Eileen Gunn

David Hartwell & Eileen Gunn


the audience


Kathryn Cramer & David Hartwell

at the Continental

at the Continental afterwards

JT Stewart & David Hartwell

JT Stewart, Clarion West co-founder, & David Hartwell

sitting around afterwards

sitting around afterwards

Anticipation/Worldcon travel advice: Exit 31 on the Northway, the Elizabethtown/Westport exit

For those driving to the Montreal WorldCon up 87 (aka the Northway), I suggest you make time for a stop over at exit 31, the Westport-Elizabethtown exit. Both Westport and Elizabethtown are 4 miles off the Northway. Also, if you are taking Amtrak to the WorldCon, Westport has an Amtrack station. An over-night stop-over should not be hard to arrange. (The Westport Hotel is next door to the train station.)

Westport map

David Hartwell and I are in process of opening a bookstore at 10 Champlain Avenue in Westport, which will be open by chance and appointment. To make arrangements to view our stock, call me at on my cell phone at 914-837-7623; the house number is 518-962-2346, but we lack an answering machine on that line. (Admit it: you have been harboring the secret desire to shop David Hartwell's book collection, right?) Come see our futuristic new location!

antique vehicles outside 10 Champlain

yes, let's found a bookstore in the middle of an economic downturn!

Caption: "yes, let's found a bookstore in the middle of an economic downturn!"

getting organized at 10 Champlain Avenue

I have prepared an elaborate travel information site about Westport with complete lodging and dining information in the sidebars. Westport is a great place. I can't say enough good about it.

The Inn on the Library Lawn has a book store, and even has rooms named for some of your favorite authors. Stay in the Peter Beagle room:


. . . or the J.R.R. Tolkien Room


. . . or if you dare, in the Edgar Allen Poe room!

There are many other fine places to stay in Westport, listed on my other site

I also highly recommend the B&B Stoneleigh in Elizabethtown, a great old stone mansion converted to a B&B. Serious bibliophiles might want to make an adavnce arrangement to visit L. W. Currey's which is walking distance from Stoneleigh. (Currey's is not an open shop, but he has a truly amazing stock of science fiction & fantasy, so call first to make an appointment. David Hartwell's high-end books are offered for sale via L.W. Currey.)

Do stop at exit 31 if you have the time.

Peter on the Shore

PS: If you're heading for the WorldCon by boat, we also have a very nice marina here in Westport!

Tangent Online Relaunches. Hooray!

David Truesdale writes:

Welcome to the relaunch of Tangent Online. It's been quite awhile, hasn't it? But we're finally back, with a somewhat different look, new software fueling the enterprise, and a brand new web-hoster, Analog author Eric James Stone (whose newest story, "The Final Element," can be found in the April, 2009 issue). Eric is the person most responsible for Tangent Online even existing today. He stepped forward and offered to host the site, provided the new software, and has been more than patient with yours truly as I have learned how to use it (and which I am still learning the finer points of). Eric deserves your unqualified thanks for his selfless efforts in getting us up and running once more.

Continue reading "Tangent Online Relaunches. Hooray!" »

What I've been reading today: Pinkwater, Knight, & Grey Gardens

Daniel Pinkwater's The Education of Robert Nifkin (1998) • Michael Muhammed Knight's Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey through Islamic America (2006) • Sarah & Rebekah Maysles's Grey Gardens (2009)

This is a really odd combination of books, but if you let books near each other, they establish a dialog, no matter how superficially dissimilar.

Nifkin The Pinkwater has been in a glass-doored book case in our bedroom probably for a decade, and I picked it out last night to read to Peter. In this household, we regard Pinkwater as a a genius, and he even came to David's birthday party once here, a long time ago. The book is set in the 1950s, roughly contemporaneous with when Pinkwater went to high school. For Pinkwater's sake, I hope it's not too autobiographical, even if it does have that flavor. It is written in the form of a college admission essay in answer to the question "Characterize in essay form, your high-school experience. you may use additional sheets as needed." It starts out along the lines of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and ends up in the literary territory of Lenanora Carrington's surrealist novel The Hearing Trumpet

Nifkin's immigrant parents are casually unpleasant to him. His father's primary concern seems to be that if he is to smoke, he should smoke cigars, not cigarettes, and his mother is a terrible cook who is desperately concerned that he might be recruited by communists or maybe homosexuals:

"Just remember, those Reds are always looking for a simpleminded kid like you, without any friends. If anyone starts being nice to you, it's safe to assume they're trying to recruit you for the Party."

"Okay, Mom." (p. 69)

Nifkin's teachers at high school are amazing characatures: The gym teacher is a sadist. His homeroom teacher is most concerned with learning whether anyone at the school is distributing communist propaganda or pornography. His English teacher is a rabid anti-semite who is also terribly concerned about communism. The biology teacher talks nonsense to herself or perhaps to someone only she can see. And the history teacher is a bitter man who wants everyone to know he could be making three times as much in industry. Nifkin joins the ROTC to avoid the sadistic gym teacher. Sergeant Gunter, The ROTC teacher, is a communist who reads Karl Marx to the ROTC students and is eventually arrested. 

The book gets weirder from there: our hero ceases going to school after the arrest of Sergeant Gunter. He avoids being sent to reform school by getting his parents to send him to a strange private school in the ancestral mansion of a robber baron run by a pair of sweet older ladies and their beatnick friends.

David brought me home both Blue-Eyed Devil and Grey Gardens last night when he came back from NYC. I think he brought me the former because someone had characterized me as a "blue-eyed devil" in a recent blog post (for the record, my eyes are hazel, thank you) and the later because of my fascination with the psychological meaning of architecture.

35638603 The Guardian quote on the back of Blue-Eyed Devil characterizes Michael Muhammad Knight as "the Hunter S. Thompson of Islamic literature." Knight is a white guy in his 20s who converted to Islam as a teenager. The book is Knight's odyssey in search of the truth about W. D. Fard, founder of the Nation of Islam. From the NYT

The man who founded the Nation in 1930, W. D. Fard, spread the message that American blacks belonged to a lost Muslim tribe and were superior to the “white, blue-eyed devils” in their midst. Under Mr. Fard’s successor, Elijah Muhammad, the Nation flourished in the 1960s amid the civil rights struggle and the emergence of a black-separatist movement.

Knight, by his own account is the son of an abusive schizophrenic white-supremacist father. The description of his early childhood reads like something out of Joel Steinberg's trial for the murder of his adopted daughter. The author didn't speak until age four, several years after he and mother escaped from his father. Knight is mostly homeless, living in his car as he pursues the phantom of W. D. Fard who disappeared in 1933. He has many strange adventures and talks to many people with even stranger theories about Fard. 

As the book ends, Knight interviews Malcolm Shabazz in prison. Shabazz, grandson of Malcolm X, was diagnosed schizophrenic at age 12. While living with his grandmother, he set fire to the house, burning his grandmother so badly that she died after three weeks in critical condition. The final paragraph of Knight's book reads:

Malcolm Shabazz had quoted Ho Chi Minh as saying that when prison gates are opened, the real dragon flies out. And he told me that the race goes not to the swift but to those who can endure until the end. I think he's living his grandfather's life all over again. Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala. Some cry tears, and some cry blood. (p. 214)

I have not read all of the Knight book. I found it hard to take at times. On the one hand, I wanted to know what Knight found out on his search, and yet he so clearly and repeatedly brands himself as an unreliable narrator, that sometimes I found the crazy conversations he got into with narrators much more unreliable than himself hard to take. Also, because he is a white guy seeking encounters with black Muslims, he repeatedly opens himself to black racism. (Though usually, people try to be nice and tend to open conversations by trying to introduce him to the basics of Islam, assuming that he has walked into a mosque out of naive post 9/11 curiosity.) I'll read more later.

Also, reading the parts about his childhood and adolescence, I found Knight's and Nifkin's fathers running together in my head, as though these were somehow accounts of the same person, told from different angles. (Pinkwater's book begins, "My father was a son-of-a-bitch from Eastern Europe.")


And so: Grey Gardens. This book is a lavishly produced coffee-table book published by Free News Projects and priced at $45.00. It comes with an audio CD. It is about archetypal crazy cat-ladies, beautiful socialites turned recluses, retreating into mansion and trust  funds. Somewhere in there one of the Edies claims that the most cats she's ever had was 300, and that she took excellent care of them all. 

This book, which is connected to the 1974 documentary of the same name and to an HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lang concerns two women, mother and daughter: Edie Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith Ewing Beale, Jr., the aunt and cousin respectively of Jackie Kennedy. 

They lived in a sea-side mansion in the Hamptons, purchased in the 20s, which fell into disrepair and got filled up with ancestral possessions and other things. When in the 1970s the health department held raids, Jackie Kennedy, and her sister Lee Radizwill put up the money to save the house from further decay. The documentary about the two women and their house was released in 1976 and is an example of cinema vérité.

The book is interesting, but I suspect it would mean more if I had seen one or more of the movies. While it does contain a lot of information, the imagery of the book corresponds to meanings I find elusive, which probably relate to the original film.

As someone married to a collector personality-type in a house he spent several decades stuffing with possessions before I came along, I cringe at the mention of attics filled with old paintings and valuable antiques given over to a pack of 30 raccoons (fed on Wonderbread and honey). 

While I am willing to entertain the idea that these are fascinating women whom have recognized the emptiness of their upper-class heritage, I think that if I'd visited them, I would have found their irresponsibility in taking care of what they had in the house inexcusable. I have seen vast economically untenable mansions in the Adirondacks suffering this sort of fate, and already know how horrified I am at people who can't be bothered to replace a broken window pane in a room with a hand-painted mural on the wall (now scaled by mildew). 

Do I want to be drawn into the pathology of their story? 

In the Pinkwater novel, women like this who run an eccentric school save Robert Nifkin from the harsh realities of high school. Are benevolent eccentric old women with mansions and trust funds a fantasy of liberation? Or are they prisoners of what was given them for being beautiful in the right place at the right time? And who is more psychologically healthy? The Edies? Or Michael Knight? Or do damaged narrators like Knight deserve the Robert Nifkin solution: to be taken in by beautiful reclusive ex-socialites who take in strays and have plenty of rooms to spare? I suspect that Knight is not looking for that kind of salvation.

Epilogue: Grey Gardens was bought in 1979 by journalist Sally Quinn and former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

Further thoughts on Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger and other books, plus some thoughts on Internet re-socialization

This weekend, preparing to drive upstate to work on our bookstore-to-be, I brought along Joanna Russ's What Are We Fighting For? along to read. I arrived in Westport, NY at the stroke of midnight, and read until about 1AM, and then finished the first chapter in the morning. It was great to hear Joanna's voice again: she is one of those writers whose speaking voice I can hear clearly in her written prose, and I found that reunion quite delightful. Her analysis of Janice Radway's Reading the Romance is something I wish I'd read a few years before she published it back when I was assigned the book in a Sociology of Literature class in grad school. I found a lot to object to about the Radway book at the time, and having back-up from Joanna Russ would have been great.  

But nonetheless, the bell hooks style third-wave feminism in the same chapter seemed to me to make the chapter's argument a bit muddled. You can't really talk about romance readers in the same chapter as trying to decenter feminism from white upper-middle-class heterosexual feminists without leaving the impression that this generations' women who got married and had kids are simply reactionaries who have made some kind of terrible mistake. 

Perhaps this is the way you had to begin a feminist tract in the mid-90s, but I put the book aside for later reading. If Joanna were really present in that captivating narrative voice, I would have argued with her about this. But a book is only a book, and she published it 13 years ago. If I wanted to argue, I should have read it a while back.

And so emptying boxes into our store space and shelving the books, I came across Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger, which as I said in my previous post, I bought on a book buying trip on the way to Balticon. (I sold a domain name to an Internet bookseller, and part of my payment was in books, so we had to go to the store to collect.)

Structurally, The Forger, is a similar narrative to Bill Mason's Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, which I read in April: Schönhaus lead the same kind of glamorous semi-underground adrenaline-soaked audacious lifestyle as Mason, leading -- after a while of audacity -- to major man-hunts and having to go seriously underground, except that Schönhaus's life of crime was aimed at saving the lives of Jews in Nazi Germany. (Reading these books back-to-back would be a somewhat uncomfortable experience.) The way each of them thrived was by assessing social expectations, and then confounding them. And in both books there is the issue of trust and betrayal, and how these men lived while being both socially gregarious and trusting almost no one. We give Schönhaus the moral high ground as a hero of the resistance, where as Mason is just an ex-criminal with an interesting tale to tell.

In addition to issues of pseudonymity, discussed previously, the other thing I found really fascinating about the book was the mismatch between the rapid re-socialization of the population taking place in Nazi-era Berlin, and people's disbelief and denial that this could possibly be happening; I commented upon a similar mis-match evident in Kazimierz Sakowicz's Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A bystander's Account of a Mass Murder. A key line from Sakowitcz:

Evidently, [Jewish mothers about to be thrown into mass graves with their children] expected that when the clothing was collected the children hidden in that way [under it] might be saved. Unfortunately. (p. 73)

The book I read just before coming up to Westport for the weekend was James Morrow's very well-researched novel The Last Witchfinder. Moment by moment, the re-socialization of the populace during witch hunts bears an eerie resemblance to the observed details in Holocaust accounts, which is, I guess, the phenomenon which Hannah Arendt referred to as "the banality of evil" in the context of Adolf Eichmann. But the focus on one man, Eichmann, does not give us access to the broader problem -- rapid re-socialization on a large scale that makes this more like a problem in epidemiology. Certainly, there are sociopaths in the word, but what causes epidemics of otherwise normal people who behave in a way one would expect of a sociopath?

A few years ago, I viewed the Internet as a vehicle for spreading compassion, spreading empathy, allowing the possibility that someone like me from her dining room could spontaneously arrive at ways to help individual people on the other side of the world who are in many ways nothing like me; that my son could draw a cheerful picture for a little boy in Pakistan who spent four hours buried in the rubble after an earthquake (and he did).

Lately, I have come to view the Internet as a vehicle for rapid re-socialization, much of it for the worse. I see a sudden Internet-induced lack of empathy, compassion, and even basic sympathy, in what I regard as a population of normal (by which I mean not sociopathic) people. I see mean-girl behavior in adult women that would get them sent to the Vice Principal's office under no-bullying policies if they were sixth grade girls at my son's school; I see violent ideation expressed publicly; I see demonization (sometimes literally); and I see this passing by without opposition from the communities within which these are expressed. 

I find this very worrisome. None of  the theories we have about how people behave in large numbers can adequately account for behavior on the Internet because the Internet is too new. A few years ago, I thought of the Internet as a potential solution to many things, and as a tool for spreading compassion across international and cultural boundaries. Now I begin to see it as the opposite: a tool used by others for the mass elimination of empathy, and as a problem rather than a solution.

Just where is it that we are going from here?

Reading Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin

Book-shopping on the way to Balticon, I picked up and advance reading copy of Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin. It was first published in German in 2004, and the US edition came out DeCapo Press in 2007. In the first 90 pages, the author has managed to survive the deportations of friends, neighbors, and his family by being a highly skilled worker, eventually working in a munitions plan. Before that, he we an art student, and at page 93, is about to begin his career as a forger of the documents that will allow people to survive:

Go see [Dr. Kaufmann], work with him. But try to spell out for him that careful plotting is just as important a weapon as heroic courage. Otherwise your life as a passport forger will be a short one. Just think about it: anybody caught with an ID card you forged will quizzed by the police about where he got the pass, who swapped over the picture and who copied the stamp. There aren't many who can keep a secret when their fingers are shoved in a door jamb and the door slammed shut on them. Unless they really don't know anything, in which case there is nothing to give away. That's why nobody must know your name and address. The same goes for Dr. Kaufmann.

It's a short book -- 212 pages. The issue of identity and survival in Nazi Germany is central to it. Earlier in the book, Cioma altered Jewish mens' pants to a more Fascist style so that they would look like Nazis from a distance and be less likely to be subject to arrest. And at one of his jobs, he was issued a pseudonym by his boss upon hiring, so he could do a skilled job for which his employer was not allowed to hire Jews. By page 93, he has skirted the edge of lethal situations repeatedly, but now is about to do something much more dangerous.

Finished the book. Our narrator survives the war by escaping to Switzerland. Dr. Kaufmann is exposed in more or less the scenario described above and was executed February 17, 1944 in Sachsenhausen.

Another basement oddity: "DES RACES HUMAINES."

Among other antiquarian children's books, I found a 1929 child's science stamp book in French, LES MERVEILLES DU MONDE. The idea was that each page came with a description and a set of stamps (the types of birds, butterflies, bridges, natural formations in caves, etc.). The child was to read the section and then match the stamps to the captions. One of the sections was entitled "DES RACES HUMAINES." The stamp page had been neatly compleleted:


Bill Gibson: "Lovecraft & Me" (1981) & more

William Gibson

David and I have been pawing through our basement today looking for things to pack to take upstate. Cozied up to a Phil Dick manuscript, or some such, David found Gahan Wilson's bust of H. P. Lovecraft which was the original sculpture for the World Fantasy Award. (David bought it back at the beginning of time.) It's now packed up for its journey upstate.

I was looking through a box that was from the same general area, and saw that below the recent stuff was a layer of fanzines. In it I found Rich Coad's 1981 special Lovecraft issue of the fanzine Space Junk, containing Bill Gibson's "Lovecraft & Me." Here's a taste:

He feared ice-cream and loved fish, or was it  the other way around. I forget. It's been years. Nurses in black rubber invaded his dreams, as I recall, tickling and tweaking him . . . Or maybe that was Colin Wilson. Anyway, this guy's world abounds with "feminine landscapes," hillocks and mounts with holes in them, and, if you're unlucky enough  to find your way down one of these things, you'll find, too late, that it's full of rats, it's all damp and icky there, the very fabric of reality breaks own, down there, and it's just a burbling, bubbling chaos, where things with big feet dance to the music of madness, all burning-churning fish-nasty . . .

I think I was about fourteen when I discovered Lovecraft.

(Ellipses in the original.)

Now, back to the basement.

At the bottom of the stack of fanzines was something called Tumbrils (No. 13), "Published for the Vanguard Amateur Press Association by James Blish." Blish writes about a kerfuffle the name of which I don't even recognize, called the "WRL Controversy." His write-up contains this marvelous line:

If there is anything valuable to be learned from Charles Fort, it is that size and numbers count for very little in human relationships.

The fanzine appears to have been published not long after Hiroshima, which is mentioned elsewhere in the issue.

Negative reviewing: A guy who hates everything in Year's Best SF 13 & more

Noted without comment: Why Science Fiction Is Dead from Space Ramblings:

That and the fact that David G. Hartwell, a Tor senior editor, and Kathryn Cramer, a reviewer at the New York Review of Science Fiction, think the mess that is The Best of SF 13 actually represents the best of Science Fiction. I can only hope that this collection was the product of the old boys\girls network in SF and that Hartwell and Cramer were just playing favorites with their friends. Because the only alternative is that they genuinely think that [John Kessel's] The Last American or [Terry Bisson's] Pirates of the Somali Coast or [Marc Laidlaw's] An Evening’s Honest Peril or [Nancy Kress's] End Game really are the best that Science Fiction has to offer. And from two people in a key position to shape what printed Science Fiction actually looks like, that is a very scary thought. Scarier than anything in this volume.

I'm not clear on whether the site is a group blog for unsigned reviews or whether it is the work of one person. The site seems to specialize in reviews of TV shows.

Continue reading "Negative reviewing: A guy who hates everything in Year's Best SF 13 & more" »

On why what people like about books is more interesting than what they don't like

A couple of weeks ago, Niall Harrison published something of a lament about review venues that are more inclined to publishing favorable reviews than unfavorable ones. He says:

We’ve been here before with regard to the insidiousness of “mostly positive” reviews, but this seemed worth pulling out as an example where the harm caused by the policy is more obvious than usual. It does a disservice both to readers who might have seen the review and now will not, and to the field of sf reviewing and criticism as a whole, for which full and honest discussion must be a priority; I hope, though I accept it is likely in vain, that Prominent SF Magazine Editor feels a mite embarrassed by their reviews policy today. That the writer in question has subsequently decided not to review at all, at this stage in their career, also makes me sad — it impoverishes the dialogue, in more ways than one — but it is understandable.

For the past 21 years, we have run The New York Review of Science Fiction on the principle that what people like about a book is more interesting than what they dislike, and we aim to publish reviews on the strengths and weaknesses of good books. This means that we publish reviews that are for the most part positive; occasionally publishing a truly negative review if the review itself offers significant illumination. 

There are all kinds of reasons one might react negatively to a book, many of them personal. One can be deaf to the virtues of a writer for several years before finally getting it. I would be quite embarrassed if I had been publishing my notes on stories I truly disliked over the years I've been doing Years' Best volumes. There are several really fine writers I really didn't get until the right story came along and things suddenly clicked into place for me.

We publish to promote the aesthetic advancement of the field and are not a buyers' guide. Some review venues that may think of themselves as buyers' guides may do things differently, which is fine. 

Vast numbers of books are published each year. Many of them do not merit much discussion or review attention, in our opinion.

Ideally, book reviews are about books, not about reviewers and their feelings. A review should accurately characterize the project of the book and how it fits into the genre. Whether the reviewer is in sympathy with the project of the book is secondary to its accurate depiction. 

The literary essay is a form  more suited for exploration of rifts between critics feelings and the books they encounter.

UPDATE: David points out to me that he wrote a NYRSF editorial on this general topic in 2004, entitled "Blooming" which is about negative reviewing as performance.

FURTHER UPDATE: James Nicoll thinks I missed the Fail Fandom subtext of Niall's post. I didn't: I did understand what Niall was trying to say, and I disagree. An essay is a more appropriate form for a critic who disagrees with the basic project of a book than a book review.

Great First Lines: Leah Bobet shows you how it's done!

From The Parable of the Shower by Leah Bobet from Lone Star Stories:

The angel of the LORD cometh upon you in the shower at the worst possible moment: one hand placed upon thy right buttock and the other bearing soap, radio blaring, humming a heathen song of sin.

Not only is this a terrific narrative hook, but note also that it is written in the second person, and the present tense, and in faux-Biblical prose. Thus she announces that not only will something wild and interesting happen in this story, but that this is an ambitious literary high wire act.

And the story lives up to it's opening line. Go, Leah!

David Nickle, Leah Bobet, & Peter Watts

David Nickle, Leah Bobet, & Peter Watts at Ad Astra

Gender, Identity, SF, & the Singularity ( a draft essay written 7/14/07)

The following is an unfinished essay drafted in July of 2007 in response to a panel I was on at Readercon in 2007. I could not lay hands on some crucial resources, such as the essay "Performance" by Don West (byline "D. West"). It appeared in Malcolm Edwards' fanzine TAPPEN, issue 5, 1982. Reprinted in DELIVERANCE, a 1992 collection of West's fanzine writing, in order finish it, and so I never did, though God knows, as we excavate the Hartwell basement archives, it may in time turn up.

I've decided to publish this unfinished draft, since my opinions on pseudonymity have recently attracted so much interest. 

—Kathryn Cramer


I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts to the science fiction field most of the time, both in essays and on panels. But once is a while, I find that I've said something I thought was clear, and that it really didn't communicate. In a number of cases in the past, this has lead to book projects or essays, for example my anthologies The Architecture of Fear and The Ascent of Wonder, or essays such as "Science Fiction and the Adventures of the Spherical Cow."

I seem to have just had such an experience, given comments I've heard or read about the panel at Readercon entitled "The Singularity Needs More Women." Such comments are for the most part not hostile, and it was not a hostile panel. Rather, I gather that some substantial portion of the audience did not get the connections I was trying to make between the science fictional notion of the Singularity and the here and now, specifically in relation to people's online construction of their identity.

I'm not going to try to rehash what was said on the panel, but rather explore what I was getting at from a different angle. —K

In a way, this was an impossible panel: We were invited into the hazardous quicksand of feminist identity politics to indulge in fantasies about what things would be like if this were only cleared away, if only all gender-related constraints on our identities were removed. We mostly didn't go there. And inasmuch as we did go there, it has not made people happy.

One continuing theme I find myself wanting to talk about at Readercon is that we already live in an unrecognizably transformed world; social changes have been worked upon us that we are unable to recognize or articulate. On this panel, I used the example of online identity and pseudonymity; in previous years my example has been how suburbia as it actually exists has become unrecognizable and that its social codes have been transformed in unrecognized ways, transformations that often are not a liberation.

Both the the Singularity and Transhumanity are social concepts. The core issue of the topic of Singularity and its relationship to gender is the extent to which one believes gender can and will be transcended through technology. And a key element in these concepts is our inability to recognize a transformed society and our transformed species: The Singularity is supposed to be an unrecognizable transformation. One thing usually said on panels about the Singularity and science fiction is that if such thing is truly unrecognizable, then one can't really write fiction about it. This panel was no exception.

A couple of works I should have talked about and didn't: Frederick Pohl's story "Day Million,"  a story about social identity in the far future that David Hartwell and I described in an introduction as "a story set in a future so distant and different that we can only glimpse it in mysterious reflections and intriguing images," and Bruce Sterling's Schizmatrix. A "Day Million" moment in Schizmatrix is when a man proposes to his ex-wife and so much has changed in their post-human existence that she accepts his proposal without knowing she's married this man before.

"Day Million" is of course deeply entangled in the subculture of science fiction's Futurians, which had its geographical center in New York City, and later in Milford, Pennsylvania. The post-Futurian sf sub-culture centered around the influential Milford writing workshop, held in Milford.

For a while in the 1980s, I lived in Milford, Pennsylvania and worked for Virginia Kidd, a literary agent and the ex-wife of SF writer James Blish. Before taking the job, I read Damon Knight's The Futurians to catch up on the back gossip. (I discovered later, after many conversations, that there is no one canonical account of the Futurian era: each person has their own -- most are fascinating -- and they mostly don't match.)

One key element of Futurian society was choosing a name. Many of the Futurians changed their names in order to change their lives. Virginia Kidd's first name on her birth certificate was not "Virginia." James Allen, another agent with the Virginia Kidd Agency once told me how Virginia counseled him to change his name when he became a literary agent. Virginia's good friend and client, Judith Merril (who was also Fred Pohl's ex-wife), told me over dinner how she came to change her last name to Merril. (She subsequently wrote this up for her autobiography.)

No one knew who the heck Lester del Rey was until several years after his death. He left behind a substantial estate and after several years of attempts to sort out the inheritance, it was apparently revealed that his name was Leonard Knapp.

Such name changes were partly pragmatic, since many were Jewish and could expect a more successful career under a non-Jewish name. And at least one member of that generation was looking to avoid back child-support. But there was also a substantial element of social fantasy. One thing I tried to understand over many such conversations was exactly why the Futurians perceived changing one's name as such a powerful act. I interpret "Day Million" as a partial expression the fantasy of only apparently real identity, or perhaps of the Modernist idea of a mask identity.

I see the current popularity of the concepts of the Singularity and trans-humanity as closely tied to online experimentation with the fantasy of apparent identity. Examples I used on the panel included Wikipedia admins who insist on the use of a pseudonym and claim that all attempts to decipher it amount to stalking; and Second Life, which requires you to adopt a pseudonym when you register -- you must select your last name from a pull-down menu and may only specify a first name; and the vast social wasteland of online dating, an unfolding disaster in human relations on a huge scale. My strong anti-pseudonymity message is not something people are all that receptive to at the moment.

The science fiction community strongly influenced the early evolution of the Internet because so many techies read sf and are involved in the sf community, and sf's ideas about pseudonymity and the adoption of a fannish name and persona seem to me to have influenced Internet fashion.  Cyberpunk sf was especially influential upon the shape of Internet social space: from William Gibson we have the very name of cyberspace, which as I recall he described in the 80s as that place you are when you're on the telephone — except that now 100 million people might overhear your call,which is recorded and archived.

There is one important difference between Futurian beliefs about only apparently real identities and the current online version of disposable personae or identity: The Futurians chose a name and tended to stick with it for the rest of their lives, whereas online identities are much usually more ephemeral. Also the Futurians used such names in person, whereas online aliases are mostly intended for use in electronic communication in cyberspace.

A significant transitional figure is James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon aka Racoona Sheldon), a mother of the cyberpunk movement. She was a client of Virginia Kidd's. After her death, I accepted a couple of her posthumous awards on behalf of the Kidd agency. My husband, David Hartwell, was her editor and one of the few people in science fiction who ever met her in person. (Philip K. Dick, another writer who prefigured cyberpunk, is in some ways an opposite figure to Tiptree. He was concerned with distinguishing the authentic from the "only apparently real." )

Alice Sheldon used her real name in her everyday life, but used an alias for her writing and correspondence in the science fiction field. Her true identity and gender were only revealed after the death of her mother, a well-known writer. Her fascination with the power of pseudonymity seems to have its origins not in the Futurian subculture, but in that of the CIA. She was briefly employed by the CIA and was the wife of a high ranking CIA official, Huntington Sheldon. The Sheldons were part of the intelligence subculture that founded the CIA.

(Perhaps the origin of the false identity as it is used in the "intelligence" community is the Romantic spy and criminal fiction of the 19th and early 20th century: in the Robin Hood stories, Richard the Lion-Hearted supposedly sneaked back into England to depose the bad king.)

Tiptree had a tremendously seductive literary voice and persona. But while the science fiction field may have benefited from her adoption of an alias, since it arguably enabled her to write a highly regarded body of fiction, it is not clear that she herself benefited. Her adoption of the Tiptree pseudonym apparently started as a joke, and took on the role in her life of an addictive drug. Her life did not end well: She had chronic problems with depression and ended her life by shooting her husband and then herself. Tiptree is an icon in feminist sf as someone who liberated her writing voice by adopting a male pseudonym. In the context of a discussion of trans-humanity and gender, she perhaps represents feminist hopes for liberation from the constraints of older constructions of female social identity.

Though Tiptree and Phil Dick are in some ways opposites as literary figures -- Tiptree as icon of the power of pseudonymity, and Dick as an icon of the technological relevance of Kierkegaardian authenticity -- both writers are intensely concerned with alienation, which seems to me one of the core issues of Internet constructions of personal identity.

The argument can be made that the adoption of the alias James Tiptree, Jr. allowed Alice Sheldon a truer expression of her inner voice than society would have allowed for someone named Alice Sheldon, and that the adoption of an alias was a form of authenticity. This argument is rarely used with regard to adoption of aliases today, with one notable exception: The strange case of Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy. Albert, an author who lost a civil suit claiming fraud brought by a movie company, gave some very interesting testimony:

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.

The portrait of Alice Sheldon in her biography suggests some similarities to Albert. Interestingly, the end of the New York Times article about the ruling against Albert suggests that she is now "liberated" from her pseudonym.

Despite the many arguments that are made about the necessity of Internet pseudonymity for reasons of privacy, alienation is much more important to the core ethical issues of online communities and their strivings toward a trans-humanity, a transcendence of all constraining circumstance. While we are no more intelligent and perhaps no less powerful online than we are in person, we can certainly make ourselves seem  unrecognizable and estrange ourselves from our genders of birth, our ages and educational levels (see the Essjay controversy), our marital status (as is widely practiced on dating sites), etc. While this is not true trans-or post-humanity, it represents at least a kind of fantasy of trans-human existence, easier than a make-over or reinventing yourself under your own name. Much as we would like science fiction to be about the future, it is so often about the present. 

For the most part, writers such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow who are concerned with the Singularity subject matter, do not try to conceal the connection of their writing to the here and now.

We did, I think, get at that issue toward the end of the panel: How gendered popular types of Internet communications truly are; how much more flamboyant gender expression sometimes is online than in real life, and on the darker side, how much more overt and nasty online enforcement of gender codes can be.

Backlash is at least as characteristic as liberation of rapid social change generated by technological change. Is the Internet fad for pseudonymity a form of backlash or of liberation? The popular claim that a protected pseudonymity is necessary to protect people from stalking suggests that pseudonymity is a backlash against unwanted transparency. David Brin claims that transparency is "freedom's best defense." I think I agree with him.

Before the panel, I was asked by the convention program chair whether I was pro- or anti- the notion of the Singularity, ostensibly because this was anticipated to be an anti-Singularity panel. I'm not sure whether the above discussion makes me pro- or anti-Singularity. I believe we are already in the midst of rapid transformation that is rendering the world unrecognizable, already in the midst of a rising inadequation of the mind to the world.

There is another word for this: alienation. And perhaps that is what we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. From Charles Stross's Singularity! A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds, a definition of the Singularity:

The SIingularity is what happens when reality throws a divide-by-zero error or you extrapolate a curve to a straight line. Or something. Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give him a wedgie. Who knows? All I know is that Vernor Vinge invented it -- damn him! (If it wasn't for those meddling computer science professors I could still be writing about PixieDust ...)

Anyway. You don't need to understand all that stuff to write about the SIngularity. What you need to understand is that after the SIngularity things will be cool. We'll all be PostHumans or UpLoading ourselves into our pocket calculators, there'll be lots of ArtificialIntelligence to help fight outbreaks of GreyGoo, and if there are annoying folks you don't want to have around you can just tell them to go TRanscend.

It's the hot new topic for wish-fulfillment adventure and escapism. And there'll be jam for tea every day.

As the Mad Hatter said, "Have more tea."

(to be continued at some point  . . .)

Reading "Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth Century America, ed. Molly Ladd-Taylor & Lauri Umansky

Books A week or so ago, I stumbled across Annalee Newitz's essay "Murdering Mothers" on Google Books in "Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth Century America (1998), ed. Molly Ladd-Taylor & Lauri Umansky. Just when I had decided that this was a really terrific essay, Google Books refused to give me any more pages, and so I had to buy the book. Annalee Newitz is one of the editors of io9, a website about which I have ambiguous feelings because of it's excessive commercialism and Hollywood orientation. This essay raises my opinion of her substantially.

Newitz tries to make sense of pop culture's fascination with murderous moms, a fascination that I think has grown substantially in the decade since Newitz wrote the essay. (As I have remarked before, in this house, we refer to CNN as Child-Abuse News Network.) 

She discusses the cases of Susan Smith (who claimed her children were abducted but was later convicted of murdering them); Margaret Bean-Borg, a Boston psychiatrist sued for having an unhealthy personal relationship with a male patient who later committed suicide; and Hedda Nussbaum (an abused woman who allowed Joel Steinberg to beat their adopted daughter to death, for which he was convicted of manslaughter) as well as Susan Brownmiller's novel Waverly Place, based on the case.

The portion of the essay I liked best was the discussion of Brownmiller's novel, in which she discusses the Nussbaum case as emblematic of the failures of feminism:

It's ambiguous as to whether Brownmiller is suggesting  that Judith's life is a result of rejecting feminism , or as a result of feminism rejecting her. . . . That a woman like Hedda Nussbaum could exist points up the failures of feminism in a way that the defeat of the ERA never could: here was a person who should have known better, whose women friends should have known better. Traditional feminism, or what is commonly called  second wave feminism, cannot fully account for a woman like Hedda Nussbaum. (p. 384)

In 1989, Brownmiller wrote an OP-ED for the New York Times about the Steinberg trial, which she attended for 11 weeks.

. . . Mr. Steinberg had very specific requirements for a suitable mate. Hardly any woman would do for this lawyer-con man who received his gratification through violence. Mr. Steinberg needed a gullible woman who would be totally under his thumb, a woman willing to abandon her family, her friends, her career and her children for a man she considered a human god. He found his ideal in a woman so narcissistic, so empty at the core despite her beauty, her college education and her professional skills that she would willfully fail to heed the explicit warnings signs that something was terribly wrong in order to stay with her lover.

I think my own view of Hedda Nussbaum is rather more sympathetic than Brownmiller's: Brownmiller, having watched the trial, concluded that Nussbaum should not have been given immunity from prosecution. (Andrea Dworkin disagreed, strongly.) So I'll probably avoid Waverly Place, much as I like Newitz's analysis of it concerning feminism's ambiguous relationship with women and women's ambiguous relationship with feminism. My sympathy for Nussbaum comes from consideration of what a powerful influence a psychopath can exert on his target. 

The 2006 murder of Peggy Perez-Olivo by her disbarred attorney husband seems to me a companion piece to the Nussbaum situation. Though Carlos Perez-Olivo was ultimately convicted of his wife's murder, all of his children testified in his defense at his trial. Almost no one locally would speak about the case to the press. So when he was convicted, the TV camera crew showed up on my doorstep wanting me to talk about justice for Peggy, when it should have been her neighbor, Hillary Clinton, and her boss, the principal of my children's elementary school, who spoke out. That Perez-Olivo could compel his children's support speaks to his power and control over his family.

But where were the feminists of Westchester to talk about the matter as a case of domestic violence?  I seemed to be one of a very few willing to talk about the matter, so I was contacted by the press again and again. And I only faintly knew the victim, who was a well-liked special ed. teacher at my son's school. The silence was, to me, truly unsettling. 

Didn't anyone else around here (other than the press and the cops) care that she'd been murdered? That seems to me an even bigger failure of feminism than what one might extract from the Nussbaum case. Nussbaum was subject to mind-control by a psychopath, but Westchester's feminists have no such excuse. Surely, I'm not the only feminist within a 10-mile radius of Chappaqua? Surely people care if someone kills you? (Or maybe they really don't care if you live or die?)

On the other hand, the press found no shortage of people willing to vocalize about another Westchester mom, Madalyn Primoff, a Scarsdale mother whose Bad Parenting Day (she made her squabbling kids get out of the car and then drove around the block, intending to come back for them) made her world-wide infamous before the anti-climax when all charges against her were dropped. 

It's not that Westchester doesn't like to talk, it just doesn't want to talk about the murder of Peggy Perez-Olivo. Meanwhile, the Primoff case was the biggest story that our local paper has ever broken, and so they're hungry for whatever Bad Mommy Tales they can get. (Women of Westchester: Disconnect the phone, stop leaving the house, and don't answer the door; infamy awaits you!) It was, in fact, thinking about the media-mobbing of Madalyn Primoff that sent me in the direction of trying to understand Bad Mother Tales, and  to Annalee Newitz's essay.

I've now read about two-thirds of "Bad" Mothers, which is perhaps a little more than I can stand in a day. There is story after story of outrageous and unwarranted government (and sometimes media) intervention in mothers' lives. And things have gotten much worse since this book was published. How many justified reasons for paranoia can one stand in a day?

Particularly memorable essays among the others I read include:

  • Mending Rosa's Working Ways: A Case Study of an African American Mother and Breadwinner by Karen W. Tice
  • Antiracism and Maternal Failure in the 40s and 50s by Ruth Feldstein, and 
  • On Being the "Bad" Mother of an Autistic Child by Jane Taylor McDonnell

Going through my library

I have a lot fewer books than David, but I have been going through them, packing them up to take to our Westport, NY house. It would, of course, be most efficient if I could sort and pack them without reading them. I am not being efficient.

Unsurprisingly, I am finding some that I am glad to see, that bring back fond memories of reading enjoyment or remind me of something interesting I hadn't thought about for a while.

But some are also provoking a different reaction: looking back at lit crit books I had as text books in the early 90s, I am stunned by the extent  of the overblown hyperbole, the exploitive and appropriative metaphors. Did I notice this at the time I last read them? These were the "difficult"critical texts which we went over in grad school seminars, and for which the professor guided us line by line translating their sentences (printed mostly in the English language) into English. At the time I think I was pretty accepting of this process. 

But now -- flipping through some of this stuff 15 years later -- I find it makes me really angry. I'm finding that some of these books, with unlikely claims as to what the author hopes to accomplish (such as rid readers of our inner fascism) and over-the-top metaphors I just don't want to own anymore.

Some of these are books with major reputations, and I don't want to claim that they are just nonsense. But looking back, I wish I had been more willing to entertain the idea that they might be nonsense.

"Food is no less a weapon than tanks, guns, and planes" --Franklin D. Roosevelt

Snapshot 2009-05-13 18-10-58

Going through the shelves in this house is always an adventure. When poking through the shelves, deciding which of my text books to take upstate, I happened across the Kerr Home Canning Book (1943) which I believe came to us via David's mother's estate. (How the book got co-mingled with Curtis's Matrix Groups, Fleming's Functions in Several Variables, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Anthony Wallace's Death and Rebirth of the Seneca I'm not sure, but such are the shifting geological strata of David's office shelves.)

The book features this interesting head-quote from Franklin Roosevelt on the weaponization of food:

Food is no less a weapon than tanks, guns and planes. As the power of our enemies decreases, the importance of food resources if the United Nations increases. With this thought in mind, we must further mobilize our resources for the production of food.

Kerr Home Canning Book

Kerr Home Canning Book

How times do change.

Food for Victory

(Of course, what is at issue is not just feeding "our" side, but starving out the enemy. Is it food, or starvation, that is the weapon?)

Marcuse & the Internet


I'm packing up a bunch of my books to take upstate, and I keep getting distracted from packing by actual books. Flipping through Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955), I found passages that could have been written now, and about the Internet. 

From the Preface :

The traditional borderlines between psychology on the one side and political and social philosophy on the other have been made obsolete by the condition of man in the present era: formerly autonomous and identifiable processes are being absorbed by the function of the individual in the state -- by his public existence. Psychological problems therefore turn into political problems: private disorder reflects more directly than before the disorder of the whole, and the cure of personal disorder depends more directly on the cure of general disorder. The era tends to be totalitarian even where it has not produced totalitarian states. Psychology could be elaborated and practiced as a special discipline as long as the psyche could sustain itself against public power, as long as privacy was real, really desired, and self-shaped; if the individual has neither the ability nor the possibility to be for himself, the terms of psychology become the terms of the societal forces which define the psyche. (p. xvii, 1962 Vintage paperback)

. . . and from the Introduction. . .

However, intensified progress seems to be bound up with intensified unfreedom. Throughout the world of industrial civilization, the dominion of man by man is growing in scope and efficiency. Nor does this trend appear to be incidental, transitory regression on the road to progress. Concentration camps, mass exterminations, world wars, and atom bombs are no "relapse into barbarism, " but the unrepressed achievements of modern science, technology, and dominion. The most effective subjugation and destruction of man by man takes place at the height of civilization, when the material and intellectual attainments of mankind seem to allow the creation of a truly free world. (p. 4)

Marcuse died in 1979.

Reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable


I realized with some sheepishness, after writing about Bruce Sterling's story "The Black Swan," that I had only read second-hand accounts of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan idea, but not his actual book of that title. So I ordered it, and now have read the book itself. A "black swan" as defined by Taleb, is an event of "rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability." Taleb is an ex-quant turned iconoclastic mathematician. This book was a bestseller, and like many best-sellers on arcane topics, it is chatty, opinionated, and a bit on the loose and sloppy side.

As I expected, I enjoyed the book a lot. His subject matter appeals both to my taste in mathematics and my aesthetic of fiction. (My favorite section of David Hartwell's The Dark Descent is The Fabulous Formless Darkenss, which is the section for what he and I call "nature of reality" horror -- stories in which the parameters of what one thought was possible usually change for the worse.)

Other than having it confirm my belief system (always a pleasure), there were two basic things I got out of reading this. 

As I told my husband (David Hartwell) while reading the book, for me this is partly a book about how David's way of doing things is right. The way David publishes books as an editor, the way he runs our small press, the way he collects books, the way he runs the family finances, etc. all tend to limit downside risks while at the same time leaving him exposed to positive Black Swans -- serendipity. (Aren't I a good wife for blogging about how I just read a book that tells me how right my husband is?)


In the second half of the book Taleb spends a lot of wordage and emotion on condemning the "intellectual fraud" of the Bell Curve. I don't really need to be able to judge whether he is correct in terms of all of his examples. But it set me thinking about standardized testing.

Last week and this week, the school district is doing extensive testing of my son, which they do every three years. (This is separate from the group standardized testing.) When my husband I meet with the district in June, we will be presented with a sheaf of paper in which, page after page, our son will be raked in terms of percentiles and numbers of standard deviations from the norm. And we will try to make sense of all this data. Again.

Years ago, I read Stephen J. Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (another book which confirmed my belief systems) and I have a deep distrust of standardized testing anyway. And yet these tests mean something, and it is of crucial importance that I understand what. In past cycles of this, I've wasted a lot of time reading up on what is meant by "processing speed" and how to understand things like the results on subtests of IQ tests. 

My son tends to produce an anomalous pattern of results on such tests, and so far no one has yet to be able to explain what this actually means, though -- who knows -- this year's tests may be different. (We expect to be having our independent expert read the results for us this time.)

So I'm reading along through Taleb's attack on the uses of the Bell Curve, and I realize that of course all of these tests are normed to Bell Curves. They wouldn't give them if they weren't. But all around me I see human attributes that do not fit that model: the ability to draw a recognizable portrait, the ability to play the piano, gender, eye color, etc. Many human differences are not meaningfully normalized to the Bell Curve.

 And so I realized there was one further aspect of what these tests measure that I need to keep in mind: that the imposition of percentiles and standard deviations on what attributes are measured may be no more realistic than contemplating a spherical cow. We somehow need to try to consider whatever we're told each of these these tests are measuring is distributed Bell-Curve-like over the population, or whether it is a different kind of thing. I find this a bit daunting, though probably worth trying.

Reading William Gibson's Spook Country


Last summer David bought a signed copy on William Gibson's Spook County in Seattle, and I found it this weekened on the night table on his side of the bed in our house in upstate NY. I read it on Mother's Day, half in the morning before going out to brunch with the kids, and the other half when I got home to Pleasantville, waiting for David to wake up from his nap to take me out to dinner. (He didn't wake up until I was almost finished with the book, so we're having Mother's day Dinner tonight, I think.)

By chance, the book covers a lot of the same thematic ground as my blog. Odd happenings involving piracy and Somalia, clownish espionage or pseudo-espionage, data visualization, international intrigue, privatized military and intelligence operations, etc. So there were a lot of details in the book to engage me, and for me to measure against various random facts encountered during the Bush years. And it is a very Bush Era book.

There were a certain number of intriguing ideas raised but which did not pay off. The one I most wanted to hear about was the idea of a "cold civil war" going on within the United States. Maybe he'll actually use it in a subsequent book, but in this book it was a toss-off line in a bit of good dialog.

William Gibson corrupted by the influence of Charles N. Brown

The book has lots of hip characters in settings and clothes that Gibson takes the time to describe -- but which descriptions I find I mostly didn't retain because these aspects did not cling to their character in the standard Jamesian sort of way. Rather, the clothes and settings felt more like superficial packaging on physics-style Beobachters on the way to their Bush-era date with doom.

The book is a page-turner full of good scenes and snappy dialog. But in the end, except for an ex-Blackwater spear carrier or two, no one gets hurt much. Instead, they go to Canada, where the inevitable and dangerous conflicts sort of evaporate and characters from competing sides  seem to be in process of forming a band or something, leaving them all available for use in whatever book is coming next.

I'm not sure how I feel about myself for being disappointed that none of them died. Is the ending unrealistic?

The strengths of this book are in its individual scenes, in its moments of insight, glimpses of what might have been going on beneath all the layers of deception in the first eight years of the 21st century. I'll probably read the book again, going back to savor the best scenes slowly without the expectation that they will all add up.

Mathoms from the Time Closet: The Discon 1 progress report, 1963

Nice 3 color illo on the front of the 1963 WorldCon progress report:

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 1

George Scithers was "Chairman, Parlimentarian, and Calculating Programmer."

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 2

Hotel rates? Nine bucks for a single, fourteen for a double. Membership? Two dollars. Honest.

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 3

The Guest of Honor was Murray Leinster.

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 4

It was David's first convention. One of the things that's great about living in the same house with him is that he keeps this kind of stuff. Here's how David remembers it:

I attended my first sf convention in 1963, Discon, having been unable to attend the Pittsburgh and Chicago conventions just prior. When I was interviewing Joe Haldeman as Guest of Honor at Confluence in Pittsburgh, I asked in the course of the discussion about his first convention, and it turned out that Joe and Gay as teenagers had attended Discon and even entered the masquerade (as Rhysling, Heinlein’s blind poet, and a lady from the Anti-Sex League in Nineteen Eighty-Four, respectively). I had just graduated college and was alone that evening, so I sat at a round table with an older gentleman for two hours and talked about myself and about sf while the masquerade and dance went on. Les Gerber, a New York fan, was dressed as Terry Carr in a sort of zoot suit. John and Joni Stopa were mostly undressed as Incubus and Succubus, for which they won first prize.

The gentleman I was talking to was Harry Warner, and when I told Paul Williams and my other fan acquaintances, they didn’t at first believe me. I was relatively new to fandom and did not know until their astonishment and disbelief that I had spent an evening with the hermit of Hagerstown, whom none of them had met. I had earlier that day been introduced to Walter Breen, so I looked up his Fanac report on the convention years later. It turned out that young Bill Gibson was in that masquerade as a priest of the beetle god. It was his first convention, too. And Mike Resnick’s

(I was born in 1962; I didn't go.)

What We're Reading

Bestofstuntology300 Peter is reading Sam Bartlett's Stuntology: "Absurd pranks and pointless techniques to amuse yourself, amaze your friends, and annoy everyone else." A mother who buys such a book for her 11-year son gets what she paid for. (Or what she deserves?)

LatinforPeople I am reading Latin for People : Latina Pro Populo by Alexander & Nicolas Humez, recommended  by Eileen Gunn, preparing myself to help my son get back on track with Latin. (Yes, he's taking Latin in the 6th grade.) 

Cov0904lg-250 I am also reading the April/May F&SF, which contains a terrific story by Ellen Kushner, "A Wild and Wicked Youth." (I read it a second time this afternoon.)